What is the point of engaging a search consultancy when you can just go online yourself and find the staff you need? All you have to do is log into your LinkedIn account, perform a simple search based on a few keywords and your list of candidates will magically appear. Better still, post a detailed job ad on LinkedIn or a job board and sit back as motivated, qualified candidates present themselves to you in an orderly queue. Maybe you’ve tried it. How did it go?
The Illusion of Simplicity
The Internet empowers us in many ways. We have greater access to tools, services, information and people than ever before. It feels like we can achieve anything and to some extent this is true. However, having access to the tools and current information you need isn’t always enough. The more complex the task, the more that expertise and experience count. Under the lights of an operating theatre, this would be glaringly apparent, in sectors that don’t require years of training it can be harder to see the value. Recruitment isn’t brain surgery, a talented individual can walk into a good consultancy and perform well quite quickly, we’re adept at assessing talent after all. So, if the work is this accessible, do you really need to use us? Well yes, in the right circumstances, it makes a lot of sense.
Building a Network
The main reason that it’s easy to underestimate the work of a quality search consultancy is that the client only sees a tiny fraction of the work that goes on. This doesn’t just mean work on the specific mandate but also the years of networking and trust-building. 2020 is unusual because, due to the pandemic, our role has become more desk-based, but in normal operation, as a people-driven business, we are face to face with lots of contacts, way beyond the restrictions of 9 to 5 working days. Those years of 24/7 groundwork don’t make the job easy, but they make the key deliverables possible to achieve.
The first of those key deliverables is to attract talent. Healy Hunt works on mid to high seniority roles focusing on functional specialisms for distinct sectors. At this level, job ads are unlikely to generate a complete candidate list on their own. Not only are relevant people in shorter supply but the majority of employed professionals, especially outside of turnaround and origination roles, aren’t looking to move. Having a wide network of qualified professionals with whom we have trust-based relationships means we always have candidates to turn to. Of course, we have access to every candidate database too, all of which we can advertise effectively on. It is our role to be meticulous in seeking out talent.
Preparing a Shortlist
This brings us to the second deliverable, preparing a selection of qualified candidates who have the required experience and who are prepared to move to a new organisation with which they are culturally aligned. We conduct thorough interviews with prospective candidates many of whom our clients never meet. As well as carefully assessing each candidate for suitability it is important that we also provide them with as much detail as possible so that they can be sure the potential move makes sense for them. Sometimes, when we are certain the move would be good for all parties, we will work hard to convince the candidate.
Representing the Client
Whatever happens with each individual, we are representing our client’s brand and it is vital that all participants in the process are left with the most positive possible impression. With the input of our clients, we aim to provide unsuccessful candidates with constructive feedback that leaves them with a positive image of the hiring organisation and enables them to work on their career progression. This sensitive aspect of our role is eased by our diligence in performing it and, although circumstances mean we can’t always offer as much feedback as we would like, it remains a significant part of the service we provide.
After what could be weeks of work or a shorter period of intense round the clock activity, the client is presented with a selection of profiles and CVs, many of which we have helped the candidates to polish. It is hard to impress the client at this stage. It is certainly hard to win them over by working on a single mandate. They don’t see the long hours, hard decisions and tough conversations that have already taken place to reach this point – not seeing or experiencing it is part of the value we offer. To the client it feels like a simple transaction, they ask for something and the consultancy provides it, but it’s not like we popped into a warehouse and picked these people off the shelf. Clients are more likely to see our real value when they see consistent performance over a few engagements. It would be so easy to cut corners on service levels, prioritise speed over quality in supplying candidates, or merely supply CVs taken at face value. By not doing that, our value proposition becomes clearer.
Of course, the third deliverable is to select the successful recruit. We facilitate the process by making sure all parties are as prepared as possible and that the candidates and hiring company can be presented in the best light. We make our recommendations as required and when a candidate is selected, we help to negotiate a package. Even a very large organisation has roles that it will only recruit for occasionally. Consultancies like ours are well-placed not only to identify and prepare potential candidates, we also have a grasp of industry salary benchmarks and wider package expectations all of which help to smooth the negotiation and help everyone to feel confident they have made a good decision.
A consultancy like ours doesn’t make sense for all recruitment categories. Roles at junior and graduate levels are more predictable in terms of volume so it is easier to have in-house recruiters working on attraction and selection programmes year-round. At the lower-middle management level, there are plenty of motivated candidates so a large, high-volume recruitment firm makes more sense. However, at our level, it is harder for an in-house specialist to follow industry trends and there are ethical issues with keeping tabs on suitable individuals across the industry. The timetable of work is also unpredictable so it is difficult to employ a senior recruiter with contingent salary expectations when there will be periods of low activity. Hand the task to the HR department and it will eat unacceptably into the time required for business as usual.
Search Consultancies Save Money for their Clients
We know we offer value and we believe that our clients understand this too. It is true that an inexperienced individual with exceptional people skills and drive can perform well in the industry quickly but it requires the governance and guidance of an established firm. Of course, there will be times where the CEO can phone a friend and recruitment can stay in-house but we understand and accept that the client has that prerogative. In general, it would be far more expensive to perform our role in-house. Pricing can be further improved by working on exclusive arrangements that allow us to be more competitive by bringing predictability to our side. Professional Search is incredibly hard work, the occasional high of a purple patch is built on years of thankless groundwork that all evens out. In our view, it will remain an undervalued but vital service that can’t be replaced by button clicks or AI. People with exceptional people skills will continue to help exceptional people.